A couple days ago, we hit you with some of the greatest games of Pat Dye’s tenure, honoring some of the fantastic memories that he brought to Auburn during his time as head coach. Today, we get you some more from the latter half of the 1980s.
1986 IRON BOWL - AUBURN 21, ALABAMA 17
After two straight Iron Bowl defeats, during both of which Dye admitted he got too cocky, Auburn finished the 80s with a vengeance against the Tide, winning four straight. It all began with the 1986 game, which turned out to be one of the most thrilling in series history.
Alabama controlled the first three quarters, building a 17-7 lead to start the final period of play. Dye’s Tigers would turn on the charm for the last fifteen minutes, as Brent Fullwood scored to start the fourth quarter and pull within a field goal. After holding the Alabama offense ineffective, Auburn got the ball at its own 33 with about five minutes left to play in the game.
The Tigers’ final drive culminated in typical nerve-wracking Auburn fashion. Jeff Burger had to hit Trey (“Ollllllllllle Reliable” according to Keith Jackson) Gainous for a fourth down conversion midway through, but when the Tigers lined up for what would end up being the game-winner, it was anything but smooth.
Auburn’s final play originally called for Scott Bolton to be the reverse man, but he never made it into the ballgame, and the play call took way too long to get relayed into the huddle. Lawyer Tillman ran out wide right, barely got set as the ball was snapped, and took the pitch from Tim Jesse out of the backfield. He used a big block from Vincent Jones and slipped into the endzone with 32 seconds left to play. 21-17 Auburn. Watching the replay, you can see the Tillman was trying to call timeout before the play started, but he just ended up having to run the reverse, and it all worked out.
Watch the entire final drive below:
1987 GEORGIA TECH - AUBURN 20, GEORGIA TECH 10
A casual viewing of a historical schedule might tell you that a 20-10 win over a 2-9 Georgia Tech team was a bit of a snoozer. Not a blowout, but Tech probably never threatened, and Auburn did a little sleepwalk but got away unscathed. Not so!
Auburn entered Atlanta as the 5th-ranked team in America at 4-0-1, while Tech was on the struggle bus. The Jackets led late into the fourth quarter, as Auburn reached the red zone. You can watch the go-ahead bullet from Burger to Lawyer Tillman below. The touchdown gave the Tigers a 14-10 lead with just seconds remaining, but they weren’t done yet.
What’s more amazing than Tillman’s fantastic catch in that moment was Aundray Bruce’s entire afternoon. He picked off three passes, and had a forced fumble and recovered fumble. In an effort to make the score a little bit more distant, his final interception of the day resulted in a pick six as time expired, and the Tigers walked out of Bobby Dodd with a win. Enjoy some Jim Fyffe.
1988 FLORIDA - AUBURN 16, FLORIDA 0
There’s really nothing super special about this game in of itself, but it encapsulated what the 1988 Auburn Tigers were all about. Pat Dye’s eighth team might have been the best of all his squads, but they slipped up in Baton Rouge, otherwise they’d have played Notre Dame for the national championship. Instead, a tough loss to Florida State occurred in the Sugar Bowl.
Defense was the name of the game in 1988, and Auburn was masterful at it, allowing just 92 points all season long. After the 7-6 loss at LSU, the Tigers went on a revenge tour, shutting out the next three opponents on the schedule. The final date in that three-game stretch came in Gainesville, where Auburn limited the Gators to just 116 yards (13 on the ground) and blanked Florida, who played without Emmitt Smith.
Here’s how important the shutout is... it’s the last time that Florida failed to score. 32 years ago. It’s the only shutout for Florida since 1982, and the only one at home since 1979. While the 1988 Auburn Tigers may have been Pat Dye’s best team, the offense left a little to be desired, as the two losses came by a combined score of 20-13. A smidge better on offense, and the Tigers are likely a national champion in 1988.
1989 FLORIDA - AUBURN 10, FLORIDA 7
Here’s a trend — Auburn liked to beat Florida in the late 1980s, especially after getting Robert McGinty-ed and Kerwin Bell-ed in the early part of the decade.
After the only shutout in Gainesville in the last 40 years, Florida came into Jordan-Hare Stadium the next season looking for payback. They almost got it, using a stout defensive effort to limit Auburn to just three points through the first 59 minutes and change.
Needing a touchdown to overtake Florida, Reggie Slack and Shane Wasden went to work. On third down deep in the north end of the stadium, Wasden ran down the sideline into the end zone and discovered that nobody covered him. Running back to the huddle, he relayed that key piece of information to his quarterback, and so Auburn ran the same play on fourth and ten.
Emmitt Smith nearly came to Auburn, and instead he never beat Auburn.
1989 IRON BOWL - AUBURN 30, ALABAMA 20
There have been tomes written about this game already, but it could very well be the most important game in Auburn history. There are some others that may be more memorable in terms of the actual action on the field, but none are so impactful as The First Time Ever.
Pat Dye had been trying to turn the Iron Bowl into an on-campus game, but there was a contract with Legion Field through 1988. Dye reportedly told Bear Bryant “We’ll play it in Auburn in 1989, then.”
It was no secret that playing in Birmingham at Legion Field never really afforded Auburn a home field advantage, even in the years when the Tigers wore blue. When the dust settled on years of negotiations, Auburn had gained the upper hand by winning the on-campus location for its 1989 ‘home’ game, and agreeing to go back to Birmingham for one final ‘home’ appearance in 1991. Originally, officials wanted those two dates to be flipped, and it’s fortunate they weren’t. The 1989 Auburn teams was significantly better than its 1991 counterpart, and losing the first Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare wouldn’t have been any fun.
Instead, Auburn welcomed an Alabama team in the hunt for the national championship on December 2nd, 1989, and scored on the opening drive. Despite going down 10-7 at halftime, the Tigers ripped off 20 straight points in the second half, opening up a comfortable 27-10 advantage. Alabama pulled within a score, but a late Win Lyle field goal iced the 30-20 win. Auburn took a share of the SEC Championship, and Alabama got taken down by Miami in the Sugar Bowl as the Canes won the national title.
If you have nearly three hours, enjoy the entire game with Jim Fyffe’s audio as well as the CBS intro of the game with Jim Nantz.
Dye’s locker room speech after the game is immortal. I don’t know how you pack that many timeless quotes into one short passage.
1990 FLORIDA STATE - AUBURN 20, FSU 17
This was Dye’s last stand. Auburn entered the 1990 season riding high on a share of the 1989 conference title, Auburn ran out to a 4-0-1 record to start the 90s, and welcomed FSU to town as the #5 team in America.
The Seminoles fell behind early, but grabbed a 17-7 lead in the second half. A Jim Von Wyl field goal cut the margin to one score, and Bobby Bowden got cocky. After the Fumblerooskie worked against Clemson with Leroy Butler in 1988, it had become almost synonymous with the Seminoles. He tried it again on a third and 17, and....
...it failed. Auburn got the ball, Stacy Danley tied the game, and then Auburn’s defense stood tall again in the final minute when they sacked Casey Weldon on a potential go-ahead drive. Instead of just going down, Weldon stumbled and bumbled for a 22-yard loss, putting the ball at the FSU 41 and turning the ball back to the Tigers. Auburn moved just a little bit for field goal range and Von Wyl kicked the game-winner to send the Noles home and give the Tigers a 20-17 win.
Unfortunately, two weeks later Auburn got Spurrier-ed for the first time, as Florida won a 48-7 laugher in Gainesville, and the Tigers limped home to finish 1990. It would be Dye’s last winning season as a head coach.
There you have it. Just a few of the finest outings in Pat Dye’s Auburn tenure. We’ll miss you, Coach.